Do Not Compromise The Interview Process

Tight labor market or not, the interview process should not be compromised. Here are steps you can take to determine if a prospect is a good cultural fit.

Tight labor market or not, the interview process should not be compromised.  Think of it, we spend maybe a total of six to eight hours with a candidate, sometimes throwing in a couple of tests.  We check references and if we’re feeling positive, we make an offer.  We ask the candidate to walk away from a job he/she knows and take a chance with us based on those six or eight hours!  And, we take the same risk: Hiring someone who seems so right for the position and then facing the possibility of buyer’s remorse.

I’m not qualified to evaluate technical skills but over the years I’ve fallen into a pattern which has served me well in judging cultural fit.  Here’s some of what I do.

• Conduct a ‘warm up’ interview with a candidate unlikely to be selected. I feel I owe it to the contenders I will meet to be well rehearsed and sharp.

• Ask candidates what they know about the company. We’re off to a good start if they’ve researched public records, newspaper articles, announcements and the like.

• Explain the process! I tell candidates that first we’ll work through some trait and style questions and ask that their responses be crisp, adding that I’ll ask them to expand when helpful.  Note the word ‘crisp.’  Ignored by many!  After that we’ll sit back and get to know each other in the time remaining.

• A caution; when you ask a question, don’t fill the empty space that may follow. It seems to be human nature that when someone doesn’t respond to us we rephrase or re-explain.  Examples of style and trait questions:

• If you were promoted to your boss’ job tomorrow what are the first two things you would change? The answers may reflect performance issues, leadership traits or no depth of understanding.

• On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate yourself in terms of organization (of your job responsibilities)? If you answer 8 or 9, I’ll ask you to describe the techniques which earn you that rating.  If you answer 7 I’ll ask what will have changed if you tell me a year from now you’re a 9?  Does the person understand their strengths and weaknesses?  (I once asked this question of an applicant for an Executive Assistant position and she answered ’10.’  I challenged, ‘what makes you a ’10?’  Her response, ‘are you kidding. I alphabetize my spice rack.’  We hired her and she did not disappoint!

• Ask the same ‘scale’ question regarding skills as a supervisor or manager or team player and then challenge the high or probe the low, what’s needed to improve?

• Fill in the blank…‘my direct reports (or peers) would say I could be more effective if I _____________’ (ask for two responses). Is the candidate aware of others’ perceptions of her/him?

• Three traits that turn you off in a boss. Here someone might say ‘micromanagement’ or ‘overly animated or graphic’ or ‘not respecting personal/family time.’  Compare those responses to your characteristics or those of the candidate’s potential supervisor.

• And a favorite, ‘if I’m authorized to hire you but the person you’ll report to is on medical leave, how should I describe the best way to manage you when that person returns to work?’ The response will tell a lot – ‘give me the goals and let me run,’ ‘meet with me weekly,’ etc.

Once through this battery of questions I shift to a relaxed, interactive and open ended conversation with the candidate.  Matching responses with intuition I usually have a sense if there is a fit with the culture and the position and then the hard part is to not tip my hand that we’re good to go or, if I’ve concluded there isn’t a fit, to disrespect the candidate by cutting the interview short.

Postscript: If a candidate is hired, use the onboarding process to recall some of the development areas surfaced during the interview.  It’s better to keep them front and center than to allow them to fade into the background only to become problematic down the line.

Lesson learned!

Read more: The Key Interview Questions CEOs Ask Job Candidates

Fred Engelfried
Fred Engelfried is Director/Chair of North Coast Holdings, Inc. and its subsidiary Lewis Tree Service, Inc. He has been a member of the board of directors of Lewis for over 20 years, and for 10 years prior to that worked with the company intermittently in various consulting capacities. He also is President of Market Sense Inc., a participative management firm that has served more than 100 regional clients over 35 years.